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N.J. teachers show Kenyan educators ways to work with blind students

Posted by Administrator on September 30, 2009

By Brent Johnson/For The Star-Ledger

September 29, 2009, 8:05PM

Lillian Rankel and Marilyn Winograd boarded a plane last month armed with eight 70-pound suitcases.

Packed inside was a horde of specialized science equipment: beakers with Braille numbers, talking thermometers that read measurements in electronic voices.

The New Jersey teachers were headed for Kenya. Their mission: to teach teachers in the impoverished African county how to better educate blind students — without upheaving the curriculum.

They held a week-long workshop at a high school for the blind there, demonstrating how students without sight can conduct chemistry experiments and learn about physics using touch and simple household items.


Marilyn Winograd, left, and Lillian Rankel, second from left, teach Kenyan educators ways to work with blind students.

“We want to raise the expectations of people who are blind,” said Rankel, a science teacher at Hopewell Valley High School in Pennington.

Rankel and Winograd have spent the past few years spreading that message. They’ve trekked across the U.S., paying their own way to peddle their methods.

But the 7,000-mile trip to Kenya was the farthest they’ve traveled. There, they say, teachers make little money, and aren’t trained to educate the blind. Very few blind students even attend school there, they say.

“They go back to their villages and beg for money,” Rankel said.

Winograd, an Edison resident who spent 27 years as a teacher with the state Commission for the Blind, met Rankel a few years ago while working with a blind student at Hopewell Valley High.

Rankel, a Pennington resident, never had a student without sight in her science class before. But together, she and Winograd developed ways the boy could participate in experiments using touch.

The result was the Tactile Adaptation Kit, a collection of science equipment tailored for blind students. Included are magnetic letters to assemble equations. Pipe cleaners to make molecules. A glue gun to paste number markings onto beakers.

The teachers sold the kits at $149 apiece, using the money to pay for trips to teach their methods at conferences in New York, Philadelphia, Texas and Wisconsin.

“It’s the teacher in us,” Winograd said. “We realized we had all the information. We needed to share it with other teachers.”

Then, two years ago, Rankel traveled with a school club to Kenya, and stopped at the Thika High School for the Blind in Keroka.

She said she learned that the Kenyan government didn’t allow blind students to take chemistry and physics.

“That’s all Lillian needed to hear,” Winograd said. “She decided to change that.”

So, she brought the school’s principal to New Jersey to see what blind students are able to learn here. Then, they set up the workshop in Kenya.

Rankel and Winograd raised $3,000 in grant money from the New Jersey Lion’s Club to buy equipment for the schools.

When they arrived, they found villages with dirt roads and teachers who had never seen safety goggles.

Rankel and Winograd taught one experiment where they put Alka Seltzer in a Zip-Lock bag, so blind students can hear and feel the pill dissolving.

“We had to teach them what a Zip-Lock bag is,” Winograd said of the workshops, attended by 16 Kenyan teachers and administrators. “Not one person in the room had seen one.”
Apparently, it made an impression.

“This opened new horizons for us,” Alfred Kamau, principal at Thika, said in a thank-you letter to the teachers. “Already, history has been made, for this is the first workshop in this usually forgotten/ignored area.”

Now, the pair are working on a book called “Out Of Sight Science Experiments.”

“You don’t need to be trained as a teacher for the blind to adapt to these methods,” Winograd said.

© 2009 NJ.com. All rights reserved.

One Response to “N.J. teachers show Kenyan educators ways to work with blind students”

  1. This is a beautiful story and goes a long way to show just how self sufficient those with sight loss can be, if we just allow them the room to grow and experience life the way a sighted person would. They are just as capable. Bravo to Rankel and Winograd!

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